With Pro Tour testing and the Pro Tour itself behind me, I’ve had a fair amount of time to start developing and fine tune strategies for Khans of Tarkir Booster Draft. I find the beginning of a new block to be by far the most fun when it comes to developing strategies and opinions of a Limited formats. While there is certainly always a lot to learn about any format, even up until the end, I feel that I’ve been able to develop a firm grasp on this one. In this article, I’ll give an overview of how I approach Khans of Tarkir booster draft and talk a bit about my favorite archetype: W/B Warriors.
Starting the Draft
One thing that I like to do in Khans of Tarkir draft that might not seem intuitive is to draft a two-color deck. I almost always try to remain two colors for as long as possible. Obviously, there are exceptions. If I open Duneblast, for example, I’m going to take it over any card, and most likely draft an Abzan deck. However, even with a card like Savage Knuckleblade, my I prefer to first-pick a mono-colored card like Debilitating Injury or Savage Punch over it.
While starting as two colors, it’s important to note that you almost always want those two colors to be enemy colors (W/R, W/B, B/G, R/U, or U/G). There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, enemy colors have two-color gold cards in Khans of Tarkir, while allied colors do not. Secondly, although my goal is to play a two-color deck, sometimes I’ll open a bomb rare later in the draft, and it’s more likely that I can splash it in a deck that contains enemy colors. Each pair of enemy colors is a part of two different guilds, unlike allied colors, which are only a part of one. For example, B/G could open a very powerful Abzan card or a very powerful Sultai card.
While I am still developing my opinions of the format, one point where I disagree with a lot of people so far is how to prioritize mana fixing. I’ve heard arguments that the tri-lands should often be first-picked as they allow you to easily slide into three colors, or are good even if you end up in only two of the land’s three colors. Personally, I like to know what fixing I actually need before I start spending picks on it, particularly early picks. If I start the draft with two black and two green cards for, example, then get 5th and 6th pick Abzan Charms, I am pretty comfortable in the fact that Abzan is open on my right. From then on, I’ll certainly draft mana fixing more highly, as I already have powerful cards that it will allow me to cast more easily.
My favorite deck in Khans of Tarkir draft is W/B Warriors. W/B Warriors is a good aggressive deck in a slow format, where players are sometimes forced (or choose to) play decks with sub-optimal mana bases. Being aggressive allow us to be able to punish opponents that stumble on a second or third color for even a couple turns, much more so than some of the slower three-color decks.
White/Black Warriors also has the benefit of being the two-color combination that has the most non-guild synergies in Khans of Tarkir. Part of the strength of the deck is that while these synergies exist, you don’t actually need them to have a good deck, it’s just like having a massive added bonus to your already good deck.
Here’s a list of black or white creatures that are (or make) Warriors in Khans of Tarkir, not counting the “lords” and payoff cards:
One problem that strategies with few payoff cards often have in Limited is that when you try to draft the deck and don’t get your payoff cards, you end up with a deck full of mediocre cards. But if we look at the list above, it’s evident that although all these cards aren’t first picks, all of them are fine to have in any white/black deck. Bellowing Saddlebrute, Herald of Anafenza, Bloodsoaked Champion, and to a lesser extent Mardu Hordechief and Seeker of the Way are all cards I am not unhappy to first-pick in any deck. What this also means is we’re very rarely going to need to prioritize random middle-of-the-road quality Warriors over good removal spells like Debilitating Injury or Dead Drop.
The Payoff Cards:
Like a lot of the Warrior cards we talked about above, Chief of the Edge and Chief of the Scale are both really good on their own merits. There aren’t a lot of quality 2-drops in Khans of Tarkir, and a 2/3 or 3/2 for two both qualify, never mind the fact that they also pump many of our other creatures.
The discussion about which Chief is better is actually somewhat interesting. On turn two, especially on the draw, usually you’d want to put Chief of the Scale into play. We can attack into morphs and most every 2-drop without offering a trade, while also triggering raid for cards like Mardu Hordechief or Mardu Skullhunter. However, on the play, when our opponent doesn’t have a 2-drop, Chief of the Edge gets in for 3 damage. Also, the bonus provided from Chief of the Edge just tends to be much more useful, although Chief of the Scale’s bonus is very valuable as well. On cards like Herald of Anafenza, Mardu Hordechief, Take up Arms, Sage-Eye Harrier, and Sultai Scavenger, the bonus from Chief of the Edge is almost always going to be much bigger. A 2/1 creature has a lot more value than a ½ creature, due to the fact they can threaten a trade with morphs, and there are very few 1/1s in the format that a ½ will now be able to trump.
I was definitely wrong about Raiders’ Spoils when I was first playing the set. As time has gone on it has impressed me more and more. When a deck is saturated with Warriors, it is obviously even better, as it allows you to make plays like suicide-attacking several creatures into one bigger creature, knowing that you are going to lose a creature but in exchange get to draw a few cards and likely replace it, making the same play next turn. Like Chief of the Edge, it is very powerful with cards that put multiple creatures into play like the cards we talked about before, or a card like Ponyback Brigade, if our deck happens to have a splash.
While this is a Warrior-themed card, like Raider’s Spoils, I have not been very impressed by it. I generally find it to be a win-more card, very rarely turning a losing game into a winning one. Sometimes though, when there aren’t better options, I think it’s fine to include one in a Warrior deck.
I think it’s also worth noting, partly for fun, that there are a lot of Warriors in other colors in Khans. The most important ones to know other than the white/black ones would be the red and green ones, since those are the two colors that pair to form a wedge with white/black. Those are:
There are even some blue warriors :
The real reason that I wanted to mention the blue warriors was that in testing, Owen Turtenwald was playing a match of Limited against Tom Martell. Tom drafted a five-color abomination of a deck, and at one point had in play a Chief of the Scale and a morph. Eventually, Tom was able to unmorph his creature which turned out to be a Snowhorn Rider. To the surprise of everyone, Snowhorn Rider got +0/+1, which ended up being relevant to the game. That is the first and only time I’ve seen a blue Warrior pumped by a Warrior chief so far in Khans Limited.
Usually, when forced to add a color to our Warriors deck, the best color to add is red. Mardu is more aggressive than Abzan, which is the other option, and given that Warriors really want to be attacking, that’s generally where we want to be. A lot of specific Mardu are particularly strong in aggressive decks, naturally, as it is the guild with the raid mechanic. Mardu Ascendancy, Mardu Heart-Piercer, Jeering Instigator, Butcher of the Horde, Ankle Shanker, Ride Down, Highspire Mantis, Mardu Warshrieker, Ponyback Brigade, Hordeling Outburst (this doesn’t make Warriors, but is strengthened by Raiders’ Spoils, although it can be very tough on the mana), and Zurgo Helmsmasher.
Another bonus to being white in Khans Limited is the quality of the white rares. I didn’t notice this myself, but Andrew Cuneo pointed it out to all of us during Pro Tour testing. Here is every mono-white rare and mythic from Khans of Tarkir: End Hostilities, Herald of Anafenza, High Sentinels of Arashin, Master of Pearls, and Wingmate Roc, which is likely the single best card in the set. Aside from Herald of Anafenza, which is a very good card, all of those cards can be considered bombs.
One last thing about white. In my opinion, the two worst guilds in Khans of Tarkir are Temur and Sultai. Of the five wedges, those are the two that don’t contain white. Therefore, by drafting white, we are sort of forcing ourselves to not be in either of the two worst guilds. Of course, I’m not advocating to force white in every draft, but I would advocate choosing a white card over a card of another color of an equal power level.
Hopefully this article gave you some insight into some things about Khans Limited. If you haven’t had a chance to play W/B Warriors yet, try to soon, it really is exceptionally fun. I have this weekend off, where I’ll rest up and start practicing for Grand Prix Nashville next weekend. Nashville is a Team Grand Prix, which as you probably all know by now, is my favorite type of Magic tournament. I am really excited to see how Team Sealed deckbuilding ends up working out with clans. I wonder if its going to end up being three shards with some splashes, or maybe something like three two color decks with one or two splashes each? I can’t wait to play the format. If you’re planning on attending Nashville, Reid, Owen, and I will be giving a seminar on Team Sealed on Friday evening before the Grand Prix on Saturday, so stop by and check it out!